Shuksan's Fisher Chimneys: A fun route on a cool Mountain 08-06-2006In my mind there are three types of mountains, “trainer mountains” that I would refer to mostly as hills that have little technical appeal and you can run up and down them, “big mountains” such as Rainier, Mckinley, and Whitney, and "cool mountains" that contain multiple routes and mixed climbing. Shuksan in my mind would fall into the cool category. With its many routes and easy to difficult variations it has proven to be one of my favorites even though I have not reached the summit until now. The conditions were excellent during the climb, and it went smoothly with the exception of a small casualty to a crevasse.
|The route through the Chimneys is shown in red. The entrance to the chimneys is just after the point on the line where it crosses the small patch of snow. We overshot the entrance by about 100 yards when approaching in the dark.|
The route then continued across the upper portion of a large snowfield/glacier, where we got on more rock and scrambled up to the base of Winnies slide. It took about 5 minutes to get to the base of the slide from the top of the Chimneys. (This part of the route cannot be seen)
After ascending Winnies slide the upper Curtis is in plain view and we just found the most direct way onto it. In our case we scrambled a little bit of rock to get to a safe spot to access the glacier. From there the route was very straightforward and could be seen far in advance. (This part of the route is not drawn in.)
We (Me (Brian), Aaron, and Jordan) had the Fisher Chimney route in mind because of its large amount of moderate rock scrambling, moderately technical glacier travel, and of course great views of Mt. Baker.
We set out on Saturday, August 5th with little information about the current route conditions. All we had heard was that the chimneys were snow free three weeks prior to our trip. We did not know the conditions of Winnies Slide, the upper Curtis Glacier or Hells Highway. So we made sure to prepare for whatever the mountain would bring us (steep ice, snow, broken up glacier...).
Aaron and I began the approach at 18:30 and got to Lake Ann where we met up with Jordan after he got off work. The route looked in good condition and we were optimistic about our chances of summiting the following morning, so we set up our 2 person Sierra Designs tent and we all squeezed in there with a bottle of whiskey. We each had a few pulls except for Jordan who took a slightly more generous helping. By 23:00 we were all about to fall asleep trying to avoid the inevitable spooning that was going to occur caused by cramming into a small tent.
We awoke at about 3:00, pumped some water and hit the trail. The moon had already fallen behind Mt. Baker so we began climbing the Chimneys with our headlamps under starlight. We initially overshot the entrance to the chimneys, but had little difficulty backtracking and getting back on route. I blame the route finding issue on the large amount of shooting stars in the sky that distracted us from paying attention to the trail.
The chimneys themselves brought little in the way of surprises and we were to the top of them and to the base of Winnies Slide by sun-up. This was a perfect time to grab a bite of food and take in the view. We checked the condition of the snow on the slide and it was in surprisingly good shape and was still firm from the previous night, so we threw on the crampons, roped up and made our way up the slide. Aaron led the way and placed an occasional picket for protection on the way up the slide. After ascending the steep portion of the slide, there was a short rock scramble that put us on the upper Curtis glacier, and this is where the casualty took place.
I halted Aaron and Jordan upon reaching the Curtis glacier to grab my camera out of my pack. At this point I was standing about 2 meters from an open crevasse, and when I pulled the camera out of my pack my sunglasses case fell and hit a cup on the snow and it began sliding, just fast enough that I could not reach it. The crevasse ended up swallowing my sunglasses case and 3 sets of lenses that were in it. I was happy however that just moments prior to this event I had put my sunglasses on, so I was able to have eye protection for the remainder of the climb.
The glacier itself was in very good condition and we made quick work of it while at the same time being dwarfed and somewhat humbled by the massive rock flanks to the left of us that separated the Curtis glacier from the upper Sulphide on the approach to Hells Highway. The highway was steep, but was ascended with little difficulty. Once above the Highway we found ourselves on the Sulphide glacier with spectacular views of the North Cascades, and noticed to our right another team heading up the Sulphide glacier.
The gully on the summit pyramid was now in sight; I could just make out the route up the gully in the center of the pyramid, and thought to myself that it looked a bit steeper than in the photos I had seen, but nonetheless we continued up to the base of the Pyramid where we took off the crampons, un-roped, and waited for another group to descend the gully before we started up.
We had heard that the gully had some poor loose rock, and while waiting for the other group to descend I frequently heard a distant yell “RRROOOOCK!,” thus solidifying the story that the rock was loose and poor. Aaron , Jordan , and I talked for a moment and we decided that with 2 other parties approaching behind us it would be a good challenge for us to see if we could make it up and down the Summit Pyramid without sending even the slightest pebble down the gully. With the exception of a small rock that fell but only a couple meters that Jordan bumped when he slipped, we were successful. The gully itself is rated class 3 and I felt that to be accurate, of course I have no doubt I was getting on some solid class 4 just because I didn’t feel like taking the time to check for the easiest path. It made the scramble a little more fun anyway.
The views from the summit were great. We met a couple guys up there that had done the Sulphide glacier and made the same mistake that we did the night before the climb by finishing all the whiskey and not leaving any for the summit celebration pull. Oh well I thought, the summit was great without whiskey, even though it may have been a little nicer with it.
The optional part of the climb was now over with and the mandatory part lied ahead (getting off the mountain safely). We followed our exact route on the decent, first down the gully, then the Sulphide glacier, then Hells Highway, and the Curtis glacier to Winnies Slide. When at the top of Winnies Slide we debated whether to rappel it or down climb it. Jordan insisted that we rappel, but the rope did not reach the full length of the slide and Aaron felt it a better idea to just down climb it. I didn’t really care I just wanted to do whatever was quicker. Of course we debated as to which one we were going to do, and I helped Jordan set up a rappel while Aaron got ready to down climb the slide. I ended up down climbing with Aaron while Jordan rappelled and it turned out both suggestions were effective, and we spent more time debating which option to take than it actually took to descend the slide.
At this point we wrapped up the rope and Aaron and Jordan allowed me to carry it down making me the sole rope carrier on the way up and way down, what nice fellows. Descending the chimneys wasn’t too bad, but after a long day fatigue started to set in and we were out of water, the steep slopes in the chimneys were hard on the knees, making this part of the climb a slightly more intense form of suffering than that of the previous portions of the climb. Once at the bottom of the Chimneys, the climb was basically over and we walked the trail back to Lake Ann where I immediately pumped a bunch of water and Aaron, Jordan, and I drank about 2 liters a piece before passing out in the tent for a 45 minute power nap. Then we packed up and were on our way.
The Fisher Chimney route was as I expected it; it was a moderately technical route on one of the coolest mountains in the Cascades. The route itself took us 11.5 hours from Lake Ann back to Lake Ann . The part I enjoyed most about that route was that it was a lot of climbing. From the entrance to the Chimneys at about 5600ft to the 9131ft summit it was all climb, opposed to a climb that is mostly trail with a small glacier or short rock climb at the top. Now it was time to get back to reality, where I got to have the pleasure of getting my wisdom teeth pulled the following morning. It wasn’t so bad though, because the surgeon had this great shot of some climbers on Mckinley with Mt. Foraker in the background that kept my mind off the teeth getting ripped out of my mouth.